In this summary we look back on the highlights of the third day of the invasion in the whole country and beyond the Dutch borders
The 12th had indeed been decision day at the two most important front sectors.
In the heart of the defences the Germans had successfully worked their way through the frontline defence at the Grebbeberg and were opposing the weaker last line. German challenges at the central and northern sector of the Grebbeline all failed. Some due to tough Dutch defences, some by poor efforts from the attackers themselves. The fights between the Dutch cavalry on one hand and the German 227.ID and SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler on the other, were of a dramatic and courageous nature, but did not affect the bigger picture in any significant way.
Still a glimpse of hope remained to hold the Grebbeline, but the senior commanders already realised that only a miracle would save the Grebbeline from collapsing in the Rhenen sector. Secretly in the late evening of the 12th, the Commander of the Field Army had his staff prepare orders and directives for orderly retreat to the eastern front of the Fortress Holland, better known as the Waterlinie [Waterline]. The major counter attack planned for the 13th at Achterberg was ambitious and daring, but it was clear to many that little could be expected from it.
In the south the eagle had landed. The French forces in Brabant had not been able to perform to standard and the remaining Dutch defences had been scattered to pieces. The disappointment over the very poor French performance had devastated all what was left of Dutch moral in the south. The fact that the relatively strong French defensive line around Tilburg had been evacuated prior to any serious fight had unlocked the backdoor to the German 9th Tank Division. Hardly challenged, their point units managed to reach the Moerdijk bridges in the afternoon, with the main force closely following a couple of hours later. The French had taken back their forces to create a dense defensive screen around Antwerpen, which would on the 13th still incorporate the city of Breda. They had no intentions whatsoever to challenge the Germans on their advance into the Fortress Holland. With that decision the fate of the Fortress Holland was sealed in the evening of the 12th...
In the far north the last hurdle in front of the Afsluitdijk had been fallen in German hands. The latter now prepared for an assault on the dike fortress itself. Here High Command could be relatively self assured about the strength of these last defences. Formidable and strategically positioned as they were, they were the one certainty in the defensive plan. The German attempts to organise a maritime action from the eastern provinces towards the west were prevented by Dutch navy operations on the IJsselmeer. But it had been at a considerable cost.
The Island of Dordrecht was the only primary front sector where opportunities had been in favour of the Dutch. The Light Division had deployed about 3.500 men on the Island on this third day and had launched a coordinated assault onto German positions south of the city. German tactics would however [unintendedly] counter the Dutch main assault, when the Kampfgruppe De Boer met head-to-head with one of the advancing Dutch taskforce. Another taskforce tried to force its way into the city-quarter Krispijn but was rejected by German defences. Only the most eastern taskforce would reach its goal, but its commander lacked any initiative to take advantage of his position.
The Germans temporarily lost control over the heart of the Zwijdrecht - Moerdijk corridor, when a boldly operating company of the 3rd Border Infantry Battalion took Wieldrecht from them. Again, lack of initiative and tactical vision prevented the Dutch from profiting from this side thorn in the German corpse. With the arrival of the spearhead of the German 9th Tank Division at 1620 hours at the Moerdijk bridgehead, the connection between the main force of the land operation and the air landing troops at the south front of the Fortress had been established .... Exactly according to schedule!
Also in Belgium the 12th had been decision day, although the 13th would be an extension of that phase. The German masses along the Meuze river became clear when numerous air reconnaissance flights added up to an inventory that showed that massive German formations were pushing against the Meuze defences in virtually all sectors. Also ground reports started pouring in which specified the arrival of German formations at many points along the Meuze. It started to show what was about to happen.
The first large scale tank battle of the war occurred in the northeast of Belgium. Two German tank divisions - the 3.PD and 4.PD - clashed with two French armoured divisions 2.DLM and 3.DLM at Hannuit [east of Luik / Liege]. On the French side about 400 medium tanks [175 S-35 and 225 H-35/H-39] as well as a mere 65 AMR-35 light tanks. The German divisions had a combined total of about 600 tanks of all four types, amongst which 80 Pz.III and 50 Pz.IV medium tanks. The S-35 was the superior tank of all, thus presenting the French an advantage on paper. The battle itself did not involve the entire formations though. On the 12th a spearhead of the 4th PD clashed with a formation of 25 tanks of the French and crippled or destroyed sixteen against five German losses. A brief German encirclement of some elements of the French was broken by an S-35 raid that released the French pocket.
Again in the evening the French and German tanks and infantry clashed, but no decision fell. The French artillery and German Luftwaffe both contributed to the stale-mate. Fights continued overnight. The continueing battle itself would only end on the 14th. The battle was essential to the Allies. If both DLM's had not been shifted forward in the vast gap east of Liege, the push of both German tank divisions would have jeopardized the entire Belgian front, because they would not only have forced a wedge between the French and Belgian army, but also they could have outpased the Belgian retreat towards the KW-Dyle line. Both DLM's had to facilitate the Allied troops to buy ample time to prepare for battle in the main defence line in Belgium.
The situation was such that the Allies still felt confident that they would be able to finally withhold the German offensive at the KW-Dyle line. The first British units started arriving in their sectors, the French in the central and southern region needed at least another day. Allied commanders realized that time was of the essence. In stead of worries over the German masses reported in the sector Dinant-Sedan, they worried more over the ill cooperation between the three major players on the Allied side. The French again endeavoured to get more control over the Belgian army, but the Belgian King intervened. He was very aware of the fact that the French only focussed on their objectives and that when push came to shuff the French matter would easily prevail over the Belgian fate. Therefore the Belgians kept the strings in their own hands. Also the British were reluctant to submit to the French desires to full and unconditional military alliance. The British held on to their political autonomy, which meant that Lord Gort - commander of the BEF - would always keep an excuse up his sleeve to reject French strategic or tactical desires.
The genuine plot of the German strategy would not become clear to the Allies on the 12th, although the signs were hard to miss. The Allies were to much focussed on their own challenges though, and missed the emphasize of the German battleplan. That would not last much longer. In the morning of the next - the fourth - day, all would become clear. Perfectly clear ...
The Germans had their share of worries too. Their logistic challenges had not been solved yet, but had improved considerably after both tankdivisions around Maastricht had managed to deploy in the room around Liege. These large mechanised formations had required much of the logistic room and their move westwards had created better space for the units to follow. Still the entire region between Maastricht and Liege was packed with vulnerable troops. The Luftwaffe guarded the region like a dedicated mother. That was more than a well deserved guard to the ground troops. The focus of the Luftwaffe on the Belgian northeast was also intended as a decoy, letting the Allies believe that the German emphasize would remain on a massive northern push into Belgian, much like the Von Schlieffen plan of WWI. The Germans threw every possible effort into this deception, because they realised that yet another day of sustained Allied believe in the von Schlieffen strategy was required to unleash the massive offensive in the Dinant-Sedan region on the next day, when the vast tank formations would be deployed along the Meuze front.
The Germans were overjoyed - yet surprised too - that the Allies had not countered the large formations in the heart and the south of the Meuze region. They had often enough spotted the low flying reconnaissance planes and were well aware that only a portion of those had been downed. The balance made it back home, obviously reporting the spotted army masses in the Ardennes region. When nothing happened and the German reconnaissance spotted no worrying French or British formations altering course, the Germans started thinking that perhaps their strategy of deception worked.
But many senior officers at the Army Headquarters remained anxious for sudden Allied surprises. In fact they were in disbelieve that the Allies failed to spot the German intentions and some even thought that the German believe in the success of deception, was a trap in itself and that it were the Allies that were making the Germans believe in their successfull deception strategy. That's why the senior field commanders were instructed to regroup on the west banks of the Meuze, once they would have crossed the Meuze on the next day. The tank formations were firmly instructed not to break out prior to effective regrouping on the westbank of the Meuze. Many field-commanders - General Guderian in particular - had quite opposide idea's ...